2 In Asia/ Budget/ Malaysia/ Travel Planning

By the Numbers: Surprisingly Budget-Friendly Malaysia

If it is not already clear, I loved Malaysia. It was one of my favorite places I have visited in these past 16 months, with people I enjoyed, fascinating cultural diversity, delicious food and fantastic underwater life. It helped, too, that while I thought Malaysia would be perhaps my most expensive stop in Southeast Asia, it turned out to be one of the cheaper places I have traveled. Including my $51.26 airfare from Manila to Kuala Lumpur, I spent a total of $507.05 for my 15 days of travels there, for an average of $33.80/day ($30.39 if you do not include the airfare from Manila). At the time of my visit, the exchange was roughly $1 U.S.=4.06 Malaysian Ringgit. This is the breakdown of where my money went, along with a few travel tips and recommendations.


I spent a total of $175.51 for 13 nights of accommodation in Malaysia (I “slept” one night on an overnight bus), for an average of $13.50/night. I slept in a dorm with a shared bathroom on two of my nights on Pulau Kapas. For one night in Kuala Terengganu and my other two nights on Pulau Kapas, I had a private room and bathroom in a budget hotel. All other nights in Malaysia, I had a private room with a shared bathroom. Other than the dorm, every room had air conditioning.

My best accommodation was an Airbnb stay in Penang. I rented a room in a large, beautifully restored heritage home in George Town. My hosts—Peter, Mei and their fluffy cat Ally—were warm and welcoming, spending more than an hour with me when I first arrived to map out places to eat and things to do in the area and later giving me more suggestions based on what I was enjoying the most. The home was quiet and comfortable, and I slept better than I had in quite some time. After months of being in guest houses, dorms or hotels, it was wonderful to be in a real home. If you visit George Town, I highly recommend staying in Peter and Mei’s home.


Eating out in Malaysia is fabulously inexpensive. My total was $148.25, for an average of $10.59/day. A reminder of my standard caveat: I do not drink, and I do not eat much between meals, so the costs are representative of some breakfasts, as well as lunch, dinner and water. A simple breakfast was included in just over half of the places I stayed. Otherwise, I paid for it separately. I ate at a combination of street stalls and casual, inexpensive restaurants. I described some of my favorite meals in Malaysia in this separate post.

Chicken biryani at Line Clear in Penang

Cendol, a popular dessert in Southeast Asia

A woman picking out lunch in the Chow Kit area of Kuala Lumpur


Including my flight to Malaysia, I spent $135.47 in total for transportation, for a daily average of $9.03/day. This goes down to $84.21 in total and $5.61/day if you subtract the flight to Malaysia. My transportation costs included local buses and trains, as well as two taxi rides; a bus from the airport to my hotel in Kuala Lumpur; a combination of a bus and a ferry to take me from Kuala Lumpur to George Town, Penang; an overnight bus from George Town to Kuala Terengganu, followed by a bus to Marang Jetty and a boat to Pulau Kapas; and a flight from Kuala Terengganu to Kuala Lumpur. Travel tip: My flight from Kuala Terengganu to Kuala Lumpur cost only $20.30. While the bus would have been even less, given the extremely low fares, if may be worth it to consider flights if you have limited time.

A view from the Hang Tuah monorail station in Kuala Lumpur


Much of my time in Kuala Lumpur and Penang I spent simply walking around, looking at art and architecture and tasting the flavorful foods. On Pulau Kapas, I spent hours upon hours in the waters either directly in front of where I was staying or within walking or swimming distance. It was free-form, fun and had the added bonus of costing me very little.

My entertainment costs included an entrance fee for one section of the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, a visit to the KL Tower observation deck, small fees to visit certain areas of the Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang, a tour of the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Penang and renting fins for snorkeling on Pulau Kapas (my mask and snorkel came for free at the places I stayed). The total in this category was $30.72 or $2.19/day.

A few memories that are starred in my mind: The snorkeling around Pulau Kapas and nearby Pulau Gemia was some of my favorite anywhere, with regular sightings of reef sharks, sea turtles, a school of 35 huge humphead parrot fish, stingrays, barracuda and the magical experience of being surrounded by one of the highest density schools of small fish I have ever been inside. As I moved through and they darted away, the scene in front of me was of their glimmering silver scales at an angle on one side of the page and clear blue water on the other. In Kuala Lumpur, I loved the gorgeous displays at the National Textile Museum, as well as the fantastic architecture of the Sultan Abdul Samad building. And in George Town, the Hin Bus Depot is a quiet spot for observing the beautiful murals that have been painted on the walls of this former bus depot turned open-air art space or for simply relaxing with a book. Photos from the Hin Bus Depot are in this post I did on the murals in George Town.

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Kuala Lumpur

A view of Penang from the Kek Lok Si Temple

A boy hanging a wish at the Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang

The waters off of Pulau Kapas (stairways take you over the rocks between the beaches)

A sunset on Pulau Kapas

Bringing in the day’s catch on Pulau Kapas

A Hindu ceremony/prayer time at part of the Batu Caves

Artwork at the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur

Saris in Penang’s Little India

In George Town, Penang


As usual, this included random costs such as laundry, toiletries and a stamp. I also bought a T-shirt and had a 30-minute reflexology session at the Lucky Blind Foot Reflexology shop in George Town. In total, I spent $12.31, or $1.22/day.

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  • Reply
    July 26, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    I agree – although it’s 20 years ago since I was in Penang I still think longingly of the food there!

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